Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Peace, Be Still

by Lisa Fox (for The Episcopal Majority)

Surely all readers of this site know that the House of Bishops will convene in New Orleans for dinner Wednesday evening along with the Archbishop of Canterbury, some Primates, and members of the Anglican Consultative Council. It seems that many people and groups are working to create a tone of hysteria around this meeting of our bishops.

In the past month, Kenya and Uganda have consecrated American (and formerly Episcopalian) priests as bishops to serve in the U.S. Now Nigeria has announced they will consecrate four more, and Rwanda will consecrate three more for AMiA in late January. Bishops in Nigeria are calling for the Archbishop of Canterbury to cancel the Lambeth Conference due to the stresses within the Anglican Communion. In the U.S., a few predictable dioceses (including Fort Worth, Quincy, Pittsburgh, and San Joaquin) have announced they may "pack their bags" to leave the Episcopal Church, if the bishops meeting in New Orleans don't vote as they wish.

It seems that many voices are working to create an air of crisis this month. Many want to make us believe that the whole world may change on October 1st if our bishops don't vote the right way. As St. Paul would say, “Let me show you a much better way. . . .” [I Cor. 12:31 (CEV)]

We need to detach from the frenzy and hold onto the deeper realities in this struggle.

Reality One: Our bishops understand “spin” when they see it. Pat Ashworth writes in the Church Times: "Spin-doctors are dismantling the Anglican Communion in line with their political agenda." And "spin" is exactly what the Episcopal Church is seeing and hearing as we approach the House of Bishops' meeting. Powerful forces want to drive our bishops into a paranoid reaction, and they are orchestrating their message. But do not be led astray. Our bishops are a godly group. They show no sign of capitulating to this "spin." They need and deserve our support in resisting the distortions flying around.

Reality Two: There are important issues before the House of Bishops. Over at the Episcopal Café, Jim Naughton offers a helpful summary of the issues now coming before the House of Bishops. He also warns us not to leap upon leaks and rumors coming out of the meeting. The words of this veteran journalist are well worth heeding. We need insight and wisdom rather than power struggles – and for that we all require some inner calm and trust. Our best prayer may be one that echoes Jesus’ prayer when, as the disciples were cowering in the boat, He commanded the raging storm: "Peace, be still." [Mark 4:39]

Reality Three: Following the English Reformation, the life of the church proceeded pretty much as before. In the same way, it will continue in the United States after October 1. Some time after the stilling of the storm, Jesus said: "Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. . . . But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well." [Matthew 6:25-33]

What can we do today?

Do not give into the "bread of anxiety," which some are dispensing. The church does not belong to us. It belongs to God. And God will preserve the Church unto the last day. We are to eat of the Bread of Life which is for all God’s people.

Pray for all those bishops and others who will convene in New Orleans, and for all leaders in the Anglican Communion. This prayer from our Prayer Book seems especially apt:
Gracious Father, we pray for thy holy Catholic Church. Fill it with all truth, in all truth with all peace. Where it is corrupt, purify it; where it is in error, direct it; where in any thing it is amiss, reform it. Where it is right, strengthen it; where it is in want, provide for it; where it is divided, reunite it; for the sake of Jesus Christ thy Son our Savior. [BCP, pg. 816]
Peace. Be still. Trust in the Spirit, who will guide us – all of us – into all truth.


Blogger Erik said...

Peace and stillness? Not exactly what New Orleans is about, but neither is hysteria. We are looking forward to the visit of Rowan Williams in our own distinctive way. The diocese here has booked the big Convention Center for his ecumenical service tomorrow, but if we meet him in person, we are more likely to say "Hey buddy where y'at?" than to address him as "Your Grace." We take an interest in the crisis confronting the Anglican Communion, but we do not consider it a matter of life or death. New Orleans has a certain perspective on catastrophe, given our recent history. The Convention Center, where tomorrow we shall gather with the Archbishop, was just a few years ago under the aspect of Hurricane Katrina very much like a concentration camp.

Deep history contributes to our perspective too. New Orleans is more post-colonial and more reflective of the African diaspora in its outlook than most Episcopal places. In many ways we are a part of the arc of Caribbean cultures, and African-based religions such as Vodun have been continuously practiced among us for centuries. We are not much scandalized by the idea of Africans asserting spiritual authority in the Americas. Some of us wonder whether the resistance to African bishops is unconsciously racial. New Orleans is also home for a long-standing and prominent gay community, so we find nothing new nor shocking about gay clergy. Some of us wonder how the church here and elsewhere would ever have sustained itself without them.

As for myself, I am not familiar with the Episcopal Majority nor with the writer of the post, Lisa Fox. I do know Jim Naughton, and I followed the link to his Episcopal Cafe piece. It was, as advertised, "helpful" -- in the sense of clearly conveying a point of view. That view privileges the power of Episcopal bishops and resists change to the governance structure of the church. "Jurisdictional innovations" are implicitly bad and threatening. The least helpful aspect of the piece was its tone towards those it opposes. Bishop Akinola and his allies are called "virulent" in the concluding sentence. The language of disease has a particularly nasty lineage in the history of polemic against racial minorities. Jim should be ashamed of himself for this usage.

On the positive side, and in response to Lisa Fox's post, I offer my version of three realities:

1. The Anglican Communion is just beginning to struggle with the meaning of its momentous demographic shift from majority white and first-world to majority black and Asian and second-and-third world. Episcopalians both liberal and conservative are going to have to come to terms with vigorous assertions of power by the new majority. This will be contentious and difficult but is ultimately healthy.

2. Innovations in the governance of our church are long overdue. We have lived too long with a few democratic epiphenomena -- committees, commissions, a bicameral assembly -- grafted onto the essentially feudal institution of the episcopacy. We are now bing driven to explore alternative ways of thinking about episcopacy and authority. As a supporter of full gay inclusion, I am grieved at the context, but innovation may come to serve us all -- gay, straight, liberal and conservative.

3. We have much positive work in the world to do together. Charles Jenkins, the Bishop of Louisiana, is expecting his fellow bishops to bring gifts totalling 1 million dollars to aid in the recovery and renewal of New Orleans. We share a common mission around the real catastrophes of hunger, homelessness, education, violence, medical care etc -- all of which are acute in New Orleans and elsewhere in the Anglican Communion. The more we focus on that mission the less hysterical we are likely to become about authority and church politics.

9/19/2007 5:24 PM  
Blogger Catherine + said...

Lisa, very fine piece of writing here and such a real view of what is and should be. I try not to over analyze and give into the "spin" and rumoring. And you are so right about it being God's church, and His alone.

Regardless of what happens in New Orleans, the Church will carry on and His will shall carry on. The Gospel will still be one of inclusivity, salvation and love.

We got game!

9/20/2007 8:31 AM  
Blogger Liz+ said...

Even the inference of racism in the first writer's posting is both dated and narrow. Although those of African heritage have been shut out for too long from the US power system, Africans are the majority on that continent and are the power brokers of the African systems, including Anglican structures and hierarchies. Racism is a systemic ill; in the case of the Anglican Communion, we're talking about many different systems peculiar to individual provinces and where racism has different meanings. Rather than focus on color, Erik might instead consider the many different levels of politics, society, tradition, and history that have brought the Anglican Communion to this seminal place in its history.

Jim's use of the word 'virulent' is both accurate and mild. Perhaps the poster could take a little more time to read the statements of Global South bishops to get some perspective on the horrific language that has described children of God who are not heterosexual.

There's so much history affecting the various provincial cultures of the Anglican Communion, going back to the 1800s. The current tensions and laboring are much more complicated than simply western cultures pushing back at developing cultures and describing the whole mess as racism. In this current crisis, sexuality is only the presenting symptom of conflicting cultures, traditions, and religious development.

I suspect we would all like this presenting symptom to stop distracting us from proceeding forward in our efforts to bring creation closer to the Paradise that God had originally intended.

Powerful meditation, Lisa. Thank you.

9/20/2007 4:36 PM  
Blogger Erik said...

Thank you, Liz, for your response to my comments. I agree with much of what you wrote, especially "In this current crisis, sexuality is only the presenting symptom of conflicting cultures, traditions, and religious development." You suggest that I might "consider the many different levels of politics, society, tradition, and history that have brought the Anglican Communion to this seminal place in its history." I might, but that would be a book and not a post!

I do consider several factors, only one of which is unresolved issues around race and color. You take me task for this last, calling it "dated and narrow." Although you concede that African Americans still suffer injustice, you offer the truism that "Africans are the majority on that continent" as proof that they have nothing to complain of. The structural legacies of colonialism and the ongoing exploitations of Africa (e.g. oil development in the Niger Delta) do not register.

Much African resentment is, to be sure, historical. Since you are concerned with particularities of Anglican provinces and cultures, let me adduce one such. Episcopalians and other Western Anglicans have never really acknowledged the mistreatment and disempowerment of Yoruba Anglicans such as Samuel Johnson and Samuel Crowther. Nigerians know these histories, and many others besides, but they presume -- for the most part accurately -- that Episcopalians neither know nor care.

It is not only Africans who feel neither known nor cared about. Last week the Anglican Bishop of Jerusalem weighed in to say that he and his associates seem to be living in a different world from Episcopalians. Many would add that not only Episcopalians in particular but Americans in general seem cut off from the rest of the world. We are unlikely to be successful at "proceeding forward" -- as both you and I would like -- until we re-connect.

My final point concerns your defense of Jim Naughton's characterization of Bishop Akinola and his allies as "virulent." This language is neither "mild" nor "accurate," as you claim. People, including those with whom we disagree strenuously, are not viruses. Disease metaphors have figured prominently in the history of violence against racial minorities and other out-groups. I am not suggesting that Jim Naughton is a genocidaire -- in fact, I understand him to be a good fellow -- but rather that he should know better than to indulge in such usage. Your response that "Global South bishops" have also used "horrendous language" is no justification. I hope you would agree that all parties to this dispute should avoid saying horrendous things to each other, even if provoked.

9/24/2007 3:32 PM  

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